With over 250 Vogue and 40 Rolling Stone covers, he is one of the most renowned portrait and fashion photographers of all time. He has shot people like Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II and David Bowie and created the images for movies like The Da Vinci Code which have reached millions of people worldwide.
Albert Watson was born in Edinburgh, United Kingdom in 1942. His father was a professional boxer and his mother was a Physical Education teacher in Penicuik where he grew up and attended Rudolf Steiner School. He also attended Lasswade High School. Since birth he has been blind in one eye, making his everyday life difficult and making his passion for photography difficult to realise.
In 1962 he started his Graphic Design studies at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee and graduated in 1966. Later in that year he moved to London to study Film and Television at the Royal College of Art in London where photography was part of his curriculum.
In 1970, a year after graduation he moved to the United States with his wife Elizabeth. She got a job as an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, where they lived. By this time Watson began shooting mostly as a hobby.
In 1971 He opened his own photographic studio beginning his photography career. Albert was introduced to one of the art directors at Max Factor, this resulted in a test shoot from which the company bought two images that were used in their advertising campaigns. His distinctive style attracted big name magazines such as Mademoiselle, GQ and Harper’s Bazaar after being introduced to the industry.
Most of his work was based in New York City meaning that he had to commute between there and Los Angeles often. His first celebrity shoot was for the 1973 Christmas cover of Harper’s Bazaar, it was of Alfred Hitchcock holding a dead goose with a ribbon around its neck. This is now one of his most famous and recognisable photographs.
Watson’s style has been consistent from the very start when he developed his style through experimentation in his studio. All of his portrait and fashion shoots take place in a studio. His photos are usually black and white, focusing on high and low key.
In addition to his editorial photography he has produced countess images for commercial campaigns for brands like Levi’s, Gap, Revlon and Chanel.
In 1975 Watson won a Grammy Award for his photograph which was for the cover of the album Come and Gone by Mason Proffit.
1976 brought his first commission for Vogue magazine which finally made him move to New York to focus more heavily on his career.
From then, Albert Watson has been extremely busy and in constant demand. Until the 90s most of his work was fashion and portraiture. He has diversified into the television industry by founding his own production company which has been involved in making over 650 commercials all of which Watson directed.
Even during his most busy years he found time for his personal projects which included taking photos of his travels to places like the Orkney Islands, Las Vegas and Marrakech.
His travels to Marrakech especially influenced his commercial and editorial work. The architecture there is simple and geometric which has translated into his photographic work.
Watson has said that he has a passion for “pure photographic imagery” he doesn’t want to focus on one particular style of photography instead he photographs everything. His photography is always carefully planned to the smallest technical details. He has even taken pictures of his Manhattan apartment for the real estate listing because he wanted to present the home in a way he sees it.
Albert was invited to photograph the wedding of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew in 1986.
In 1993 he took one of the first photos of then undiscovered Kate Moss in Morocco for German Vogue contributing massively to her success. A singe print of this photo was sold in 2008 for $108,000 at an auction.
Until recently Watson worked on large-format film cameras. He found the effect of film more beautiful and charismatic. However, he has switched to digital in the recent years because the process of developing was too time consuming for his busy schedule and his tight deadlines.
Albert Watson was named ‘one of the 20 most influential photographers of all time’ by Photo District News in 2000.
He has had countless solo exhibitions at places such as The Museum of Modern Art in Milan, City Art Centre in Edinburgh, National Portrait Gallery in London, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts as well as many others.
In 2006 he won a Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Advertising Photography and in 2010 was awarded the prestigious Centenary Medal by the Royal Photographic Society for his contribution to photography.